THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, September 3, 2015…… Steve Andrews, a perennial thorn-in-the-side of Gov. Rick Scott and his administration, popped up again recently in one of the Tallahassee lawyer’s more obscure public-records requests, this time regarding pot.
Andrews has garnered a reputation within and outside of Scott’s inner circle for his requests for documents accessible to the public under Florida’s broad Sunshine law.
Scott’s office recently agreed to pay Andrews $700,000 in taxpayer money to settle a public-records dispute concerning a piece of property near a historical site known as The Grove.
Andrews has been at odds with Scott since the former health care executive’s initial bid for governor five years ago. The attorney also has represented Department of Corrections inspectors in a lawsuit against the agency and Scott. The inspectors accused the agency of retaliation after exposing an alleged cover-up of the death of an inmate. An internal investigation later found that the inspectors had not done anything wrong.
More quietly, Andrews is a participant in a snafu generated by the Department of Health, the agency charged with selecting five nurseries to become the state’s first legal growers of medical marijuana.
The agency’s Office of Compassionate Use received a number of public-records requests — including one from The News Service of Florida — for “dispensing organization” applications, due in mid-July.
The department provided highly-redacted copies of the applications, blacked out by the applicants themselves, to numerous requesters, including The News Service.
But prior to the release of the censored documents, health officials erroneously gave unredacted versions of at least one application to more than a dozen people, forcing the department to engage in some damage control.
Andrews was among the lawyers who received the unredacted documents, according to emails obtained by The News Service.
In an email to nursery owner and applicant Robert Tornello, lawyers for the health department acknowledged they had erroneously given his unredacted application to 13 others, including some of his competitors in the state’s Southwest region. Tornello learned of the release after being notified by someone who had received the documents, according to a message he sent to health officials last month.
Andrews was identified as one of four recipients — all attorneys or law firms — whose clients were unknown to health department officials.
“We are currently trying to determine who their clients are. Keep in mind, some attorneys may not be allowed to release the clients’ names as it is protected attorney/client information,” department Deputy General Counsel Janine Myrick wrote to Tornello on July 27.
Myrick also told Tornello that she was “happy to let you know” that all but one recipient had agreed to return or destroy the unredacted material.
It’s unlikely that the state has a clue about the identity of Andrews’s pot client, something the lawyer himself is not revealing.
“Not only can I not disclose it, I’m not certain who my actual client is, which is not unusual. I have no idea who my client is. I was retained, I believe, through another law firm,” Andrews told The News Service in a telephone interview Thursday.
It’s unclear why exactly health officials were worried about who requested the public records — Florida law doesn’t require requesters of public records to identify themselves. But it seemed important to them to find out.
“Let me know when you find out the clients for Steve Andrews, Broad and Cassel, and Greenberg/Traurig. TX. J,” Myrick wrote to Office of Compassionate Use staffer Amanda Bush the same day she contacted Tornello.